In July of 1990 professional boxer, Pernell ‘Sweetpea’ Whitaker took a step aerobics class I was teaching as a green group exercise instructor in Virginia Beach. Sweetpea’s professional career began in Madison Square Garden after he won gold at the 1984 Olympics. In 1989, he was named Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America and The Ring magazine. I called my Dad in Richmond immediately after class because he had boxed for the club team at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1958 (then, RPI). He was impressed.
Six days ago, Mr. Whitaker died while crossing a wide intersection in that same town. Long gone from residency in VB, I happened to be in town this fateful day. That intersection is a few hundred yards from the building where I started my post college professional career. All of these catch points have me catching my breath. I didn’t know Mr. Whitaker but when I learned of his death I remembered we crossed paths for 60 sweaty, stepping minutes to Funky Cold Medina, Casanova by LaVert, and a little Jody Watley mixed in.
I still know zero about boxing but back then I knew who he was and his famous descriptor: “Pound for pound, Pernell ‘Sweetpea’ Whitaker is the greatest boxer in the world.”
In reading about his funeral , I learned a lot about how deep Pernell’s impacts are outside the ring. His community and his friends are forever changed for the better. I am grateful for the hope he gave many and the smile he gave me.
I hope my Dad gets to meet Sweetpea in heaven. Maybe they will workout together.
I hear he was a pretty good boxer –